Who is My Neighbor?

BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time | July 14, 2019

See today’s readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading. The archive of all of Fr. Brian’s homilies can be found here: Salesian Sermons

When I was growing up, I remember living next to an older man named Clarence and his wife.

Our yards were separated by this beautiful garden, terraces full of lovely roses. And we knew if anything ever went over that wall, we would never see it again.

Soccer Balls. Baseballs. Frisbees.

Lost forever on the other side.

We would see Clarence and his wife from time to time, but always at a distance, as they were heading in and out of the house.

But then Clarence’s wife died.

And the next week, we see Clarence outside tearing down the terraces. Cutting down the rose bushes. Uprooting the years worth of work that his wife had put into cultivating that beautiful barrier.

He smiled as we stared at him perplexed and then proceeded to say that he always hated that garden. For it prevented us from enjoying his yard.

Then he walked over to his shed and pulled out the years worth of balls and other projectiles that had sailed into his yard.

He dumped them at our feet and said, “Enjoy.”

Then he quietly climbed to the porch, sat on his rocker and smiled and we commenced playing across both yards.

I thought about that scene as I listened to the Gospel question: who is my neighbor?

For Clarence always was my neighbor, but for a long time I didn’t really see him as such. Because there was this barrier between us.

A beautiful barrier. A well-thought out barrier. A useful barrier.

But a barrier nonetheless.

And I cannot help but think that this is the great challenge facing Christians today in 2019.

For we too have lost sight of who our neighbors are. Because we too often hide behind barriers of our own construction.

We live in a world of fences, locked doors, and security systems. Our neighbor is someone that we should view with a degree of suspicion and distrust.

We live in neighborhoods, attend schools, and worship in churches in which everyone pretty much looks like us, thinks like us, votes, like us, and spends like us. Different becomes uncomfortable and sometimes even downright dangerous and suddenly our own, narrow worldview becomes the only acceptable way by which we evaluate the world.

And the funny thing is, we take this all for granted. We take all of these barriers for granted.

As if they were always there. As if they should always remain.

And over time, we begin to lose sight of our neighbors.

We deny their experiences.

We stop hearing their cries.

We strip them of their humanity.

They become the other. The source of our fear. The target of our hate.

The young black man in his hoodie lounging against his car

The young woman who is transitioning

The asylum seeker who arrives at our border

The Muslim woman in her hijab

The militant white male clinging to his confederate flags.

But today, we can choose to break this cycle.

We can be the ones who stop. Who kneel down in the middle of the proverbial road and look into the eyes of our neighbor.

To listen to her pain

To share his joy

To hold her righteous anger

To offer him our strength

We can be the ones who tear down the barriers.

We can be the ones who go and do likewise.

May we have the courage to be the Christians we are called to be.

May God be Praised.

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